The information capacity of visual attention

Preeti Verghese, Denis G. Pelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Is visual attention mediated by a general-purpose processor with a small data capacity? Such an attentive processor could perform a wide range of transformations upon a small amount of image data. We suggest that this limited capacity corresponds to a fixed amount of information, measured in bits. We measure how much information an observer's attention can handle by measuring how much we can restrict display information without impairing the observer's performance. The attentive visual tasks we study are the detection of a stationary dot in a field of moving dots, and the detection of a static square in a field of flashing squares. Performance of these tasks is perfect up to a critical number of elements (the span of attention) and then falls as the number of elements increases beyond this critical number. The display information required for unimpaired performance in each of these tasks is low; the results indicate that visual attention processes only 30 to 60 bits of display information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)983-995
Number of pages13
JournalVision research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1992


  • Critical number
  • Information capacity
  • Span of attention
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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